The Practical Radical

K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher Steps up

July 5, 2010
3 Comments

Most rappers would be considered a sell out if they let their song be used by Coke. Not K’naan.

“I have a lot of friends who are from either side, Mos Def and those guys who are in the conscious lane. I know other friends who are in the make-money lane. But for me, I see myself as someone who can speak to both audiences,” he said. “That to me is important, to never claim a position too smart for the listener. I think it’s important to reach everybody.” (read the complete CNN article Somali rapper bucks hip-hop code of violence). His interview with CNN as well demonstrates the basic humbleness of the guy.

I first got to know of K’naan when i was organizing the youth program for the World Urban Forum in 2006. What I learned was that he was both a principled artist and a pretty good businessman. He never did play at the WUF (unfortunate, as we had a great lineup and over 5000 people attending), but one of the EYAers organizing the WUF, Kevina Power, and a EYAer turned Hip Hop blogger/writer Tara Henley helped out on an amazing concert tour in Joburg and Soweto. (I don’t have many regrets in my life, but not attending this was one of them).

K'naan in Soweto, June 2005

I later was able to briefly connect with him at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (of all places) as part of my volunteer work on the media committee. Again, blown away by the guy and his amazing music and poetry.  This is a photo I took of him playing on the mainstage (with the mountains in background … surreal).

K'naan in Vancouver

What moved me about his Wavin Flag was the strong shout out (like my hip hop lingo?) to youth in Africa:

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say, love is the way
Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers

I love the in your face realism of his message – yes, we are proud; yes, we will move forward to a promised future; but damn the struggle is hard. Funny enough, this verse is not repeated in the official Coke song. I guess Coke isn’t THAT radical.

He has an earlier song (In the Beginning) that speaks to this message of the struggle – it is really beautiful and quite moving spoken word:

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark
In the eyes of the youth there are question marks
Like freedom
Freedom for the mind and soul
We don’t see them
See them for their worth at all
That’s why we lead them
Lead them to these wars and what is it we feed them
Feed them our impurities and who it is we treat them
Treat them like the enemy humanity will need them
Need them like the blood we spill and where freedom

Freedom for the hearts we fill
Mislead them
They hunger for the love we give
But we cheat them

The cops beat them when all he wants is his freedom
So they defeat them
Whatever spirit he’s got
Beat them

And they teach them that the rest of the world don’t need him
And he believes it’s a disease that he’s heathen
Put up your fists if all you want is freedom

You really have to listen to the song to get the full impact.

It is amazing to see that someone from such a background as his can hit it out of the park the way he has. Gives me some hope for the future.

ps. for those die-hards, here is Wavin Flag … one more time.

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Framing Our World – A Photo Collage

June 30, 2010
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This is a collage of photos done for the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006 by KK Law. The photos were part of a larger exhibition focused on the perspective of youth on their city. Enjoy!

Generations of Woodwards

Cottonwood Gardens


Framing Our World – A Photo Collage

June 30, 2010
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This is a photo collage done for the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006. The photos are part of a larger exhibition focused on youth perspective on the urban environment. The photos exhibition was mounted by EYA and UN-HABIAT. Photos done by KK Law.

Generations of Woodwards

From the roof of Woodwards 1

From the roof of Woodwards 2

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Nairobi Reflection 3: High Touch/Low Tech

June 17, 2010
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Community Mapping has always been quite an amazing tool – it localizes knowledge, draws on the “mappers” personal and community experiences, identifies interconnectedness – all this coming together and increasing social capital (if you are interested in the concepts of social capital read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone; to better understand how it relates to mapping, read up on John Mcknight’s Asset Based Community Development). You can check out some of the work that the International Centre for Sustainable Cities and UN-HABITAT has done on community mapping by checking out their draft asset mapping manual.

As I have written about before, the Kibera Mapper’s project take this to the next level by combining the “soft” components of mapping – working with community, getting them to identify their “assets” or “social capital” – with the “hard” components of mapping – turning out maps which can be used in community organizing and advocacy. These organizing and advocacy outputs can be used to influence decision makers such as planners – I like to thing of it as the “pointy stick” of mapping, where you can drive your message home with great success.

What is even more exciting is how low tech this has become. Using what they call Walking Papers mappers are able to draw directly onto a map and then have it scanned and that be uploaded directly to a digital map. No GPS, no uploading to an onsite computer. The definition of High Touch/Low Tech.

A Walking Paper example - the barcode in bottom right allows the map to be scanned and lined up with an offsite digital map

Anyways, I am re-blogging Mikel’s post from the Map Kibera blog. It gives a lot more detail and new insight into mapping — real-time — in the field.

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Nairobi Notebook 2: The Sustainability of Good Works

June 14, 2010
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Nairobi Notebook

NOTE: I had a wonderful lunch when i was in Nairobi with some of the people from the Map Kibera project (you can read my previous blog on this here, or go to their website mapkibera.org). What fascinated me was the stage they were at in regards to the growth of their project and their concern about assuring that the project was sustainable. This  got me thinking about sustainability and NGOs. Here are my musings on the subject …

Just as the coin for business is, well, coins, the coin for NGOs is change. Positive change. It is what every NGO assumes it will be able to achieve when they start, and what many fail to do. The challenge often for NGOs as with for-profit companies is achieving and sustaining their success.

To achieve success an agency agency needs to plan, to plan they must have a  “business model” – guidelines to better understand where they stand in relation to their own development.

One traditional for-profit model is that of the “business cycle” or “S curve”.

aides1.jpg (11156 bytes)

This model  is used to understand the growth  of industries and organizations. However, the S curve does not recognize key components of a healthy system – specifically the phases of destruction and renewal. A healthy forest is one that has trees grow older, die, and then become the fertilizer for the new growth. The S curve is silent on these phases of destruction and renewal. Ironically, it is the paradox of having things dies that assures the longterm sustainability of a healthy system.

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K’naan at World Cup

June 11, 2010
2 Comments

Wish I was there!!

Some quotes left regarding the video:

CENTRAL AMERICA, AFRICA, & SOUTH AMERICA WAVE YOUR FLAGS with PRIDE!!!!we might be 3rd world countries but my god we are stronger then any wealthy nations

Respect and love to K’naan. Thank you for waving the somali flag. One day somalia will be the country we knew. Peaceful, best weather on earth and beatiful people like u

K’naan You’re the best ever and your song will be the best song world cup in Africa I’m very proud of you K’naan and thanks for the

woow k’naan well done man,,,, u really made me cry when i sow my flag woow i dont know what to say K’naan love u so much 

You know in a weird way this performance really moved me… just such a mix of cultures in the crowd, thousands of them coming together to sing a song about being proud of who you are and where you come from, and to have a man from somalia, a country thats been through so much to sing it, it was very powerful 🙂

For one month, the world is at peace, and the only battle that takes place is on the field. For a brief moment in time, EVERYONE is united. You can see that in this video


Digital Access for All: Broadband for the People … really

June 4, 2010
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When there is an increase in broadband speed in the North America, we can download more episodes of our favorite TV show (mine is 30 rock); when broadband speed increases in Africa, millions more people get online through mobile technologies.

Whole “development” leaps are being taken on the African continent – mind numbing and corrupt bureaucracy is in one click being overcome with government services going online; banking is being revolutionized with mobile “MPESA” banking;  “urban wilderness”, the unplanned settlements or slums, or being mapped for the first time. And I can go on – read my article on Bridging the Digital Divide.

Just saw this great article and video done by Declan McCormack on the impact of mobile phones and the internet in east Africa that i thought nails it in regards to what is going on. Enjoy.

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Of Graffiti, Youth and Space #2 – Favela Painting

May 21, 2010
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Cross posted from Sustainable Cities: PLUS Network Blog

Favela Painting is a graffiti program initiated by artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. In 2005 they started a project focused on bringing works of art to unexpected places such as the slums of Rio. Their most current project entitled ‘O Morro’ (meaning ‘The Hill’), is in the central square in the community of Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro. The graffiti was all done by local painters who were trained by the artists.

This seems to bring together some of the best of Rio graffiti – it reflects that youthful feel, builds on local talent,  beautifies the community, and trains people to boot. Cudos to the artists, and lets hope that projects like this continue on to other communities.

Here are some more shots of the project:

Thanks to This. That. and the Other. blog for pointing out this project.


Who needs a Scarlet Letter when you have CNN

May 19, 2010
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Michelle Obama was holding one of her “chat with the children” events when someones world was turned upside down. One of the children she was chatting with states “My mom said, I think that she says that, Barack Obama is going to take away everybody that doesn’t have papers,” the young girl then goes on to say “… my mom doesn’t have any.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Ms. Obama clearly has laid the way to that by allowing this young girl and her family to branded with a proverbial Scarlet Letter illegal immigrants on international TV. Who can say with the tone of the debate going on regarding immigration what might happen next to them.

We all have to take personal responsibility for our actions in this global age – the challenge is who should we blame. Is it Michelle’s fault for using kids to move her message? Is it CNN’s for airing the video? The child for saying something stupid? The parents for illegally immigrating?

For me, maybe it’s not what the leader of the free world has done in the past, but here’s hoping that Michelle and Barrack take responsibility for their actions, and take care of the mess they have put that little girl in.


Pradical Blog: Harper Consolidates his Minority!

May 16, 2010
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10,000 Harper Loyalists

There has been much hullabaloo about Harper bring back the old chestnut of abortion – the reporting on this issue reflects the general opinion about Harper from many commentators (for example Rex Murphy, Don Martin) which  seems to be that this issue only plays to the Conservative base, demonstrates Harper is an ideologue, and won’t allow him to gain a majority.

I believe it is much more Machiavellian than that.

Except by complete implosion of one of the 4 main parties, there will be a minority government, and Harper knows it. Of course he will never say this – keep the dream alive! – but he is too canny a player not to realize it.

So, if we put his actions on abortion and other policy pronouncements such as climate change within this context, what he is doing makes sense. He is energizing his base through wedge issues, just as one Karl Rove was so good at with George W. in the states. Activate the base, demoralize the others.

So the 10,000 people on parliament hill rallying against abortion with 18 Conservative MPs in tow? All dyed-in-the-wool-never-to-vote-for-anyone-but-Stephen supporters.Those 10,000 people are the vanguard, and they will assure Harper his minority and slim chance majority (watch for a Conservative/Bloc alliance in the next election).  The Armageddon Factor is a good read on the religious right and Conservative politics in Canada, or read some quotes from evangelical youth leader and Conservative darling, Faytene Kryskow. She believes her Christian fan club should emulate the Hitler Youth, who she admires for mobilizing people to their cause, and ponders how much more who group could accomplish with the power of God behind them. To understand her impact, Check out her group MY CANADA and her blog, which outlines her political work like the recent face to face meetings with 30 MPs and the reception she hosted that had in attendance 70 conservative MPs.

Harper has made the calculation that it will be a minority government – and has duped the media and the general public into believing that a coalition against him would be the coup d’etat by the social hordes. The other parties? Still trying for a majority seemingly. Until such time as the NDP – who have never been in government – and the Liberals – who believe they have never been out of government – get together and strategize it will be Harper all the way.


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    Practical things that make me radical

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